If you ask London Knights’ defenceman Olli Juolevi who the top defenceman in this year’s NHL Draft is, he’ll tell you in plain and simple terms that it’s him. After battling fellow OHLer Jakob Chychrun all season long for positioning on the NHL’s Central Scouting, he finds himself one spot behind the Sarnia Sting defenceman on the CS final rankings.
However, that doesn’t faze the confident Finnish blueliner who remains optimistic that he’ll be the first defenceman taken off the board come June’s draft.
“I’m the smartest of the Ds,” said Juolevi when asked why he’d be the first blueliner to go. “It’s something that’s hard to teach. It’s one of those natural things that you have or you don’t have. You can always go practice your shooting, or passing, or skating or whatever, but that’s a hard thing to improve on anymore.”
Confidence Fuelling Juolevi and Finns
It isn’t just Juolevi who’s come away from the Combine sporting the ultimate level of confidence, however. Fellow countryman Patrik Laine is similarly optimistic when it comes to where he sees himself ranked amongst his peers.
Laine on why he believes he's the best in the draft, "I have the best ability to become the best player in the NHL someday."#NHLCombine
— Matt Brown (@brown__matt) June 4, 2016
This seems to be the fuel that has fired up the Finnish train heading back into Buffalo for the 2016 NHL Draft – confidence. It’s not cocky. It’s more of a swagger that just 12 months ago shone over the face of Jack Eichel as he discussed the possibility of going first overall.
Now, we all know how that story played out – and possibly for the better as Eichel had an outstanding rookie year in Buffalo. But don’t be surprised to see Laine adapt to the North American game as well as could be imagined.
The same should be said about Juolevi – who played with the Knights and had the opportunity to learn the North American style already.
“London’s a great place and probably the best place to play junior hockey,” said Juolevi about making the jump to the OHL. “All the European players want to play like NHL players and lots of players are drafted from the OHL.”
Two Ways About Him
When it comes to his type of game, the 18-year-old defenceman described his play as resembling that of Anaheim’s Hampus Lindholm. A Swede, drafted sixth overall in 2012, Lindholm’s managed 92 points (23g-69a) in just 236 regular season games with the Ducks over three seasons. Add that to his plus-61 rating as one of the Ducks’ top-four defensemen and he seems to be able to play at both ends of the ice.
With the confidence exhibited by Juolevi, this is the type of game that scouts and management staff league wide is going to expect from the Helsinki-native when he does finally make the jump to the NHL.
If you want to get an idea of just how promising this kid is, look no further than his numbers from last season. He notched 42 points (9g-33a) in just 57 regular season games with the Knights, posting a plus-38 on their top pairing. In the playoffs, he added 14 points (3g-11a) in just 18 games and a plus-15 rating. In the under-20 World Junior Championship, he had nine assists in seven games and helped Finland to the goal medal.
And I know, he played on a dominant Knights’ team, but he’s an 18-year-old playing the North American game for the first full season in his young career. While he doesn’t posses the same big build as Chychrun – at almost 15 pounds lighter than his Sarnia counterpart – Juolevi makes a good argument for being the first defenceman off the board.
Obviously it will depend entirely on if picks are traded and who ends up with the fourth to tenth picks, but there is a small chance that Juolevi’s confidence could pay off and he could find himself the first blueliner taken in the 2016 NHL draft.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.